DOI: 10.1177/00238309231202944 ISSN: 0023-8309

Does Orkish Sound Evil? Perception of Fantasy Languages and Their Phonetic and Phonological Characteristics

Christine Mooshammer, Dominique Bobeck, Henrik Hornecker, Kierán Meinhardt, Olga Olina, Marie Christin Walch, Qiang Xia
  • Speech and Hearing
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Language and Linguistics
  • General Medicine

Constructed languages, frequently invented to support world-building in fantasy and science fiction genres, are often intended to sound similar to the characteristics of the people who speak them. The aims of this study are (1) to investigate whether some fictional languages, such as Orkish whose speakers are portrayed as villainous, are rated more negatively by listeners than, for example, the Elvish languages, even when they are all produced without emotional involvement in the voice; and (2) to investigate whether the rating results can be related to the sound structure of the languages under investigation. An online rating experiment with three 7-point semantic differential scales was conducted, in which three sentences from each of 12 fictional languages (Neo-Orkish, Quenya, Sindarin, Khuzdul, Adûnaic, Klingon, Vulcan, Atlantean, Dothraki, Na’vi, Kesh, ʕuiʕuid) were rated, spoken by a female and a male speaker. The results from 129 participants indicate that Klingon and Dothraki do indeed sound more unpleasant, evil, and aggressive than the Elvish languages Sindarin and Quenya. Furthermore, this difference in rating is predicted by certain characteristics of the sound structure, such as the percentage of non-German sounds and the percentage of voicing. The implications of these results are discussed in relation to theories of language attitude.

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